The first month of the new year brings a number of changes to our skies. Venus and Saturn sink into the sunset, leaving Jupiter as the sole evening planet – except for a brief window when the elusive Mercury joins the scene. The winter constellations are on full display, and the month begins with a short but interesting meteor shower. Meanwhile, Comet Leonard reaches its closest point to the Sun, but has moved out of view for northern hemisphere observers.
Comet Leonard 2021 A1 has dipped below the horizon for Manitoba skywatchers but continues to put on a good show for more southerly observers. In late December 2021 the comet seemed to fragment, undergoing a burst in brightness and sparking a tail disconnection event. The comet continues to brighten as it reaches its closest point to the Sun early this month, and then will rapidly fade as it heads out of the inner solar system on its 80,000 year orbit around the sun. You can see the latest images of Comet Leonard at Spaceweather.com.
Mercury is visible low in the southwest after sunset as January opens, to the left of and slightly above much brighter Venus. Mercury will remain visible in roughly the same place for the first two weeks or so of January. See the calendar entries below for diagrams and Mercury’s approaches to other planets.
Venus is barely visible for the first few days of the month after sunset, very low in the southwest as darkness falls. Venus will be the first star you see become visible because it is so bright, but it sets soon after the Sun so you’ll need a view clear of any buildings or trees to catch it. Venus’s orbit will carry it between the Earth and the Sun near the end of the month (actually, slightly above the Sun from our point of view) and by month’s end will become visible in southeast before the sun rises in the predawn sky.
Mars rises just before sunrise, but isn’t bright enough this month to be easily visible against the bright twilight sky. By month’s end we may be able to spot it in binoculars using Venus as a guide (see calendar entry for January 28 & 29 below).
Jupiter is in the southwest after sunset, only about a quarter of the way up the sky from horizon to zenith (the point straight overhead). It sets by 9 pm at the beginning of January and before 8 pm by month’s end. It’s probably already too low for decent telescope views, since the thicker air near the horizon makes images turbulent.
Saturn also disappears from our evening skies this month. You might still catch it early in January, very low in the southwest as darkness falls. Saturn is much fainter than Jupiter and also lower in the sky, so it will become progressively less prominent as the month goes on. The thin crescent Moon is nearby on the evening of the 4th, providing a one-night-only guide to finding Saturn.
All times are in Central Standard Time (GMT-6), the current time for Manitoba. All sky views are created with Stellarium software (stellarium.org).
Sun 2 Jan 2022: New Moon. Tonight and tomorrow morning is also the peak of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower, a short meteor shower that will benefit from the lack of moonlight to interfere with the view.
Mon 3 Jan 2022 (morning sky): The Quadrantids will peak in the pre-dawn hours of Monday.
Tue Jan 4 2022 (00:52 am CST): Today the Earth also perihelion just after midnight, the closest point to the Sun in its slightly-oval orbit around our star. Northern hemisphere observers: this should remind you that the seasons have nothing to do with how close we are to the Sun!
Thu 6 Jan 2022 (7:00 pm CST): Tonight’s [email protected] show focuses on winter observing, and how to do it without freezing. Watch live on Facebook or YouTube at 7:00 pm Central or catch past episodes on the Manitoba Museum’s YouTube Channel.
Fri 7 Jan 2022 (evening sky): Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun – the farthest apparent distance between the Sun and Mercury in our sky, making it the best time to catch a fleeting glimpse of the innermost planet.
Sun Jan 9 2022 (evening sky): First Quarter Moon
Wed Jan 12 2022 (evening sky): The waxing gibbous moon is near the Pleiades star cluster this evening. The two should just fit into the field of view of typical 7×50 binoculars. (Any binoculars you have are worth trying – even if you can’t see both together, both the Moon and the Pleiades are amazing through a pair of binoculars!)
Thu Jan 13 2022 (7:00 pm CST): The waxing gibbous moon has moved on and is near the Hyades star cluster which makes up the V-shaped face of the constellation Taurus the Bull. Again, both should fit in the field of view of typical binoculars. On tonight’s [email protected] show we’ll have live views of the Moon and star cluster (weather permitting) and focus on what you can see on the Moon with binoculars or a small telescope.
Sun Jan 16 2022 (evening sky): The almost full moon shines to the right of a pair of bright stars. Castor and Pollux mark the heads of the constellations Gemini the Twins. In the evening as they rise, Castor is the top star and Pollux is below it; as the sky turns and the stars rise higher into the south, Castor is on the right and Pollux is on the left with the Moon below them.
Mon 17 Jan 2022 (all night): Full Moon
Tue 20 Jan 2022 (7:00 pm CST): Tonight’s [email protected] show will focus on Orion the Hunter, the most prominent of the winter constellations. We’ll talk legends and lore as well as science and observation as we take a deep dive into what Orion has to offer backyard skywatchers.
Tue 25 Jan 2022 (morning sky): Last Quarter Moon
Thu 27 Jan 2022: (7:00 pm CDT): Tonight’s [email protected] show will help you take some pictures of the sky during this week’s dark of the Moon. We’ll talk cameras and apps, how to take sky pictures, and what to point your camera at.
Sat 29 Jan 2022 (morning sky): The very thin crescent moon is closer to Mars, with Venus above left, very low in the southeast before dawn. This will be a challenging observation – there will only be a short window between the objects rising and the sky brightening too much for them to be seen. Make sure you have a clear horizon free of buildings or trees, and look for Venus (the brightest) first. After you spot Venus, use binoculars to try and spot the thin moon and Mars.
Tue 1 Feb 2022: New Moon
To find out when the International Space Station passes over your location, visit Heavens Above and enter your location.